CMA issues tips for pet owners as its announces full market investigation into the UK vet sector

23 May 2024, 05:39 | Updated: 23 May 2024, 08:30

The UK's competition regulator has issued three tips for pet owners amid concerns they are paying too much on vet bills and are not given enough information about treatment options.

It follows a March update of a review into the UK's £5bn veterinary services industry by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which said pet owners could be paying too much for medicines or prescriptions.

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The watchdog on Thursday said it was launching a full market investigation into the UK's veterinary sector.

It advised animal owners to:

• Shop around for a vet and don't always go to the closest one

• Ask the vet if there are other treatment options

• Think about buying medication from places other than your vet if it's not an emergency

About 60% of vet practices now belong to large companies, up from 10% a decade ago - almost 90% of vets in the UK were independent in 2013. The six large corporate vet groups in the UK are CVS, IVC, Linnaeus, Medivet, Pets at Home, and VetPartners.

Key regulatory concerns

The CMA said it had five key concerns: whether consumers are getting the right information at the right time to make informed decisions; how limited choice in some areas is impacting pet owners; whether vet profits are consistent with "levels expected in a competitive market"; if vets are incentivised and able to limit choice when providing treatments or recommendations - particularly when they are part of large vet groups; and if the regulation is preventing the market functioning as well as it could.

"The message from our vets work so far has been loud and clear - many pet owners and professionals have concerns that need further investigation," Sarah Cardell chief executive of the CMA said.

"We've heard from people who are struggling to pay vet bills, potentially overpaying for medicines and don't always know the best treatment options available to them."

Roughly 16 million UK households have pets, the CMA added.

A full market investigation

The first few months of the investigation will focus on gathering and analysing more evidence from a wide range of interested parties.

Since the sector review started in September the CMA received 56,000 responses to its call from pet owners and vet industry workers.

The full investigation will take time, said Martin Coleman the chair of the inquiry group.

"Market investigations are, by their nature, comprehensive and complex. They require time to fully explore concerns and to ensure that all points of view are heard so we can reach the right outcomes and take appropriate action, if needed, to make the market work for everyone."